COVID-19 rushed the world into digital and hybrid ways of working faster than anyone could have imagined.
Unsurprisingly, this led to a lot of reverse-engineering, working-it-out-on-the-job, and many of us getting things wrong. It also led to new ways of working and making from which many don’t want to return.
Almost overnight, artists and organisations could reach more (and more significant) markets. Audiences found more ways to engage than ever before. Importantly, those previously denied access to our programs and services were suddenly only a mouse-click away.
The move to digital and hybrid working immediately made arts employment and engagement more accessible, flexible or even possible for many.
However, just being more accessible didn’t make our sector accessible, flexible or inclusive enough, nor did it mean those changes stayed in place once we started to re-emerge.
The change also happened in a way that frustrated many Deaf, disabled and regional people in particular, those with caring responsibilities, and allies like myself. After years of community-led advocacy and self-led access (with slowish and smallish results), Australia’s arts and cultural sector suddenly got a lot more accessible the moment city-based non-disabled people needed it to. In the main, change-makers have also failed to consult with or draw on the expertise of these communities, even though they have become (through necessity) some of Australia’s leading experts on overcoming barriers to engagement with the arts.
Now, as artists and organisations move towards a new- new-normal, we have an opportunity to draw from the best of this recent experience, improve the parts that caused us problems in the past, and reimagine how we make art work onsite and online – in ways that are more flexible, accessible and better for everyone involved.